HC Deb 04 March 1976 vol 906 cc1534-6
Q5. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on economic policy made at the Civil Service Department on 16th February.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Graves-end (Mr. Ovenden) on 2nd March, Sir.

Mr. Lamont

With reference to the Prime Minister's comments on public expenditure, does he not find it alarming that by the end of the decade debt interest will be taking between 25 and 50 per cent. more than the individual programmes on health and education? Even if the Government's cuts are carried out, will not the main effect be to provide more room for consumption, but a redistribution of income to the rentiers of Government securities?

The Prime Minister

I would refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to this question on Tuesday. According to the Financial Times, we could have avoided all this if we had printed money in the same liberal way as the last Conservative Government, an action which created our inflation.

Mr. Loyden

When are we likely to see the physical dispersal of the Civil Service in accordance with the Hardman Report?

The Prime Minister

We are pressing ahead with this. I discussed the matter with some of my right hon. Friends whose responsibilities are relevant to the question. I note the particular interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) in relation to Merseyside. We intend to fulfil the statement by the Government, who accepted the Hardman Report, which the previous Government refused to do.

Mr. Lawson

Since the speech in question was about economic affairs, will the Prime Minister say how he explains that unemployment in this country has risen more over the past year than in any other Common Market country except Luxembourg? Why did he tell my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) that the figures he quoted, which came from a Written Answer from the Department of Employment, were an erroneous fact?

The Prime Minister

This is a question of which periods one takes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] If I give a wrong answer, I will be the first to withdraw it, but I should like to study the Written Answer. The increase in unemployment in 1974 was much greater in other European countries. The increase to which the hon. Member fairly referred was for a much later period, because unemployment began to rise here later than in the other countries. If one takes any period from the beginning of the slump, which began under the Government whom the hon. Member supported, one can see that our increase has not been greater than that of other European countries.

Mr. Molloy

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be far better to make amendments to official policy, so as to get back to work the millions of skilled artisans and working men and women who create the wealth of this country than to feel concern for the Stock Exchange gamblers and the puny merchant bankers who are so well represented on the Conservative Benches?

The Prime Minister

None of this arises out of the speech I made at the Civil Service Department on 16th February which related to the Civil Service. I hope hon. Members in all parts of the House will welcome some of the things I said then. I dealt with the numbers and growth of the Civil Service under successive Governments. If the House decides that there are to be improvements in, for example, disablement benefits or a refinement in tax law in order to secure greater justice or to counter tax avoidance, this means more civil servants.

Mr. Baker

Does not the Prime Minister appreciate that debt interest in the next financial year will be £5,000 million, which is about one-third of the yield of income tax? How does he think many taxpayers will feel when they realise that one-third of their tax is going to pay interest on debts largely run up by this Government?

The Prime Minister

I cannot remember whether the hon. Gentleman was at the Treasury in the last Conservative Government.

Mr. Baker indicated dissent.

The Prime Minister

Apparently he was not and he has proved his disqualification to be there by his question. I have already answered it when I made clear that we could have avoided this debt interest if we had printed money like water, as did the last Conservative Government.